Air travel used to be a significant event in the early days of commercial flights. Passengers used to dress in their best outfits, take souvenir photos at the check-in desk and splurge on branded hand-luggage.
This significance though came at a hefty price, restricting air travel to the few people who could afford it. Today, with one-way flights selling for less than a fast food meal or long-haul bus ticket, budget airlines have made flying far more accessible to huge swathes of people. Vacations or business trips once reserved for top executives are now feasible for individuals and families with modest income.
Rynair, easyJet and other European low-cost airlines have changed the rules when it comes to travel, and presented flights as a viable and affordable alternatives to trains or driving on Europe’s highways. Official Aviation Guide (OAG) analytics reports that 36% of Europe’s airline market is dominated by low-cost carriers like Ryanair, Wizz and others.
The success and resilience of these airlines has pushed traditional legacy airlines to launch their own low-cost options, such as Lufthansa’s Eurowings. US legacy carriers also did the same, but with less success. The aim was to compete with low-cost carriers on the other side of the Atlantic like JetBlue and Southwest Airlines, which over the years have risen from ambitious startups to serious contenders to the three big traditional carriers in the US.
Of course, the success of Rynair and easyJet has fueled several copycats with varying success. The recent announcement of Air Germania’s bankruptcy is a reminder of the difficulties that face cost-cutting carriers.
What’s significant about the meteoric rise of budget airlines, is the type of travel and packages they have created. Often, low-cost carriers bundle up their cheap fares with affordable accommodation, creating “vacation packages” which saw a decline as passengers started booking their own flights and hotels, instead of travel agencies. In other words, short, affordable vacations have never been easier and show no signs of slowing growth and expansion.
Passengers might have had to save up all year for a 10-day trip to a destination, but with the advent of low-cost carriers, multiple 4 or 5 day trips to an increasingly wider list of destinations has become possible every few months now. Apart from being a welcome improvement for passengers, this has helped destination countries as well. Low-cost carriers use airports that are often in the less-congested part of cities, and the accommodation provided is also outside the usual tourist-trap areas. This has made travel experience more authentic for veteran tourists, discovering new destinations not over-saturated with tourists. It’s also helped these less-trodden areas see revenue from tourists they never have before, boosting local economies in the process.
Budget airlines are here to stay, and their growth shows no sign of slowing down. Cost-cutting on features that legacy airlines still retain was the key to low-budget carrier success, and many passengers don’t seem to mind less frills when flying. Of course, legacy airlines still fly two-thirds of passengers in Europe, and low-budget carriers face difficulties outside Europe, where travel within the European Union is easier and with less fees and taxes while traveling between member states.
So, if you don’t mind not having a screen, choosing your seat or getting multiple pieces of luggage, then budget airlines will help you save money on your fare, so you can spend more at your destination, or for your next trip!